The joys and pitfalls of obsession

alpaca obsession

I have a natural inclination towards obsession, focussing all my energies on one thing until it bursts into flame. Sometimes this is bad. Not always.

Ask someone who knows me in real life, and they’ll tell you I’m quite good at obsession.

I think of it as having a talent for focus. Hubby disagrees.

In the past I’ve obsessed over study, work, hobbies, romantic interests (before you freak out, I married him in the end), concepts (but what little girl isn’t crazy about horses?), reading books (like reading a ten-book series ten times back to back), writing books, TV shows, video games, and the absolute best way to construct a wall out of branches and pine needles.

I exaggerate. My pine walls were good, but I could have made them better with an additional ten years to experiment.

A flair for obsession can bring unexpected rewards, but the path to them is thick with pit traps and those nasty things you step on that release a log in your face. Today I’m going to share some of these joys and downfalls so you can decide for yourself if a life of obsession is right for you.

The upsides of obsession

Almost by definition, if you obsess about something you spend a lot of time doing it.

Not only that, but you invest a lot of emotional energy in doing it, which means your subconscious keeps working on how to do it better even when you’re doing something entirely different.

As a result you get pretty darn good at it.

I’m not saying I kick ass at everything I do (if you want to say it, that’s entirely different), but over my life I’ve developed a moderate level of skill at a number of different activities.

This makes them more pleasurable to do and makes it more likely people will pay me to do them (reducing my need to perform activities I loathe in order to eat).

You might not count this as an advantage of obsession (perhaps it’s the cause of obsession), but I also find the more I do something the more I enjoy doing it.

So the more I do it.

So the more I enjoy it.

So the…

You get the picture.

Yea, that probably is the root of my obsessive nature.

Having an obsession also reduces the time wasted on making decisions.

I don’t think I’ve ranted about this before, so let me devote a minute to it now.

Time spent making decisions is a pure cost. If someone came along and told me right at the start what I should do to make myself happiest (or save the most unicorns, or best achieve whatever my objective is), I could get on with it straight away.

Yes, rushing to a decision means I might end up doing something dumb, like ordering waffles for breakfast instead of eggs, but there’s no reason I couldn’t order eggs immediately.

It’s an information problem.

Give me in the information that eggs will maximise my happiness and I’m sorted. (Assuming I believe you. But you’re trustworthy, right?)

Contemplating a decision, mulling over the pros and cons, is a waste of time. Just tell me what’s best for me to do.

What does this have to do with obsession? Having an obsession means you always know the answer to “What should I do?”

Whatever you’re obsessed with, do that. It’s the path to happiness.

Obsession squirrel
Nuts?

The pitfalls of obsession

Despite the obvious advantages of obsession, it might have a few minor drawbacks.

If you want to have two hobbies, such as writing and something that forces you to use your body, it’s never going to happen.

Sure, you can start with two hobbies, but you always enjoy one more.

That one gets more time and mental energy. The first week it’s only an extra ten minutes.

No problem. Ten minutes rounds down to zero.

But those ten minutes make hobby number one that much more enjoyable. The second week it has a half hour lead. The third week, a full hour.

A few months down the line, you’re spending 20 hours a week on awesome hobby number one, and a measly ten minutes on lame hobby number two. Why do you even bother?

Sure, you get pretty great at hobby one, but you stop moving, like, ever, and when you want to dig the blackberries out of the vege garden it really hurts (though some of that is the blackberry spikes).

Similarly, having any hobby means you have time for nothing else. You don’t even finish watching the last season of Game of Thrones. (Don’t tell me what happens at the end. One day my laptop might break so I can’t write, and I’ll finish watching it.)

If you have a minute while you’re waiting for the toast to pop up, you spend it on your hobby.

After a while hubby starts to notice.

He is not impressed.

Obsession kitty
Tuna?

Once upon a time, when I’d just moved countries, I realised I didn’t have a hobby. I wrote a list of activities I thought I might enjoy. The first was competitive potato carving.*

* Obviously it wasn’t competitive potato carving, but that will do to illustrate my point.

My plan was to start at the top of the list, try each a few times, and see if any sang to me.

I got as far as competitive potato carving. I tried it once. Fun. Again. More fun. Again.

I was addicted.

Competitive potato carving took over my life (and hubby’s).

I couldn’t walk across the living room without falling over mountains of potato peel. I spent hours watching the experts slice slivers of potato on Youtube. I videoed my own efforts from all angles, studied my technique, and moulded it to that of the experts.

But that wasn’t enough. I read the potato carving secrets of the masters. Videoed other people carving potatoes to analyse their technique, critique it, and see where I could learn.

One day hubby said, “You never do anything except potato carving.”

“Why would I want to?”

I didn’t. Should I have? I was getting pretty darn good at carving my potatoes.

This tale has a sad end. A migrating mermaid carried potato blight to my country, and no longer did I have potatoes to carve.

I moped for several years, then turned to writing.*

* Yes, this is kind of true, it just wasn’t competitive potato carving.

Lessons learned? Potato blight is bad.

butterfly obsession
Competitive potato carving made me happy. Like these flowers.

What this has to do with searching for a critique partner

You knew I was going to talk about looking for a critique partner (CP). I could hardly disappoint.

I said I was going to find the perfect CP, and I’m darn well going to.

What that means right now is that I’ve narrowed down to four people who are a good fit in terms of genre, style, and experience, and I’m critiquing their work at the rate of about a chapter a day, while trying to edit my own, and blog, and do all the other stuff.

They’re all great writers and cool people and I want to work with all of them so much.

But I promised exclusivity.

So in the end there can be only one.

Fortunately we’re not at the end yet. And in the meantime I’m going to be as freaking helpful to all of them as I possibly can be.

Are you an obsessor, or do you have the talent to spread your energies over more than one thing? Is it a blessing or a curse?

Get my blog posts in your inbox. I might obsess, but I don’t stalk. Or spam.

Author: A.S. Akkalon

By day, A.S. Akkalon works in an office where the computers outnumber the suits of armour more than two-to-one. By night, she puts dreams of medieval castles, swords, and dragons onto paper.

12 thoughts on “The joys and pitfalls of obsession”

  1. Iโ€™m OCD. Itโ€™s very easy for me to get fixated on something. Sometimes itโ€™s a good thing, like you said. It helps me problem solve. Iโ€™m really good at certain things! Sometimes it creates a horrible life imbalance that leads to getting very sleep.

    I wish I was that diligent about finding a CP. People would either ask me to be their CP or I would take the first person or two who showed up without any regard to anything else. A person might get lucky, but who wants to rely on luck?

    1. Life imbalance can certainly be a problem. :/

      That’s true. I got lucky with my first CP, but I had no way of repeating the experience to find another one, so I thought I’d be more methodical. And even if the whole process doesn’t end in a CP relationship, I will have got so much out of it. (But I’m 99% sure that’s not going to happen.)

  2. In most aspects of life I have the focus of your average squirrel, or perhaps butterfly. But you know what, both of those creatures manage to get done what they need to do, even if it involves a lot of fluttering or misplaced acorns. I’m sort of hopeless at hobbies, mostly because they generally involve making things and I can’t think of anything I could make that I want to then either have hanging around or give away. Sometimes I garden, but not now. Once I took up knitting, and the results were disastrous. I swore at my lopsided stitches so much my husband begged me to stop. I suppose I might have improved if I’d kept at it. But I also might have just stabbed myself in the eye with my knitting needle. It was a hard time.

    1. Everyone has their own way. As you say, squirrels get a lot right, and they’re certainly good at stealing food from the bird feeder.

      Ah, the making things hobbies – I’m not great at those either. My hobbies have tended more the way of martial arts… and writing. My mum did teach me to knit when I was kid, but not to cast on. Luckily we have Youtube to teach us such things these days. (How did we ever learn without it?)

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